One can only hope, in the world of the political elite’s construct of nationalism that is prevalent in Nepal, the interests of the people who are suffering shall not be sacrificed writes Sohan Prasad Sha for South Asia Monitor
By Sohan Prasad Sha
Nepal has already officially concluded the search and rescue operations after the devastating earthquake on April 25, 2015, and more than dozens of aftershocks with a few big ones recently, that has so far left more than 8,000 people dead, and many more from almost 13 districts severely affected. In doing so, the government has also asked 34 nations involved in rescue missions to withdraw their teams only after the end of the second week of the earthquake. However, the timing of this premature decision caused confusion in such a tragic moment.
It raises more questions than answers, and makes it difficult to comprehend what is really going on in Kathmandu. Many reports from the ground suggest that besides Kathmandu, the search and rescue operations in the outskirt regions have not been conducted properly, and in many cases not at all. It is obvious and inevitable that relief and rehabilitation exercises in such a scenario would take months, and years.
However, over the last few days, two issues have emerged that seem to have overshadowed the real issues at hand. First, the #GoHomeIndianMedia trending on Twitter, with the Nepali media simultaneously picking up the story of a section of Indian media’s insensitivity and jingoism while reporting in these traumatic times in Nepal. While it has been rightly condemned to an extent, what it has done is that it has taken the focus away from the real story on the ground.
Second, the Nepali media’s extensive reporting on this trending business has not only convoluted the story, but has further divided opinions and perceptions. It has either diverted the focus of Nepalis as well as the entire world from the rescue to relief and long term rehabilitation debate, or has just simply flared up the jingoism on social media as well as Nepali media; an ugly bashing which is not unusual most of the time, but definitely shocking and surprising during such human tragedy.
The focus at the moment should be on the Nepali government’s initiatives as well as failures to manage the rescue and relief activities, to facilitate an overall process to build a positive environment, restore hope and confidence in the people that Nepal shall overcome and rebuild what has been lost in this tragic hour. But a section of media, both from Nepal and India, involved in a jingoism which is hardly in the interest of the people, suffering and caught in a horrific natural disaster, now seem to have managed to get the tag of a ‘geo socio political disaster’ added to the list of Nepal’s ‘political disasters’.
There is no doubt that for the sake of ‘humanity’, almost the whole world is united in sharing the grief and pain of Nepal. Being immediate neighbours, India and China responded with relief and rescue missions, with even the prime minster of Bhutan coming all the way to Nepal to show solidarity with the people. Similarly, other nations as well did their best to send technical expertise to carry out mass scale rescue work in Nepal.
However, with the kind of media heckling at the moment, it will cause a huge discomfort if Nepal is caught in this ‘geo-socio political’ blunder. If so, then it is the people of Nepal who will end up suffering – from both the Nepali government’s inefficiency and corruption, as well as the indifference of the Nepalese political/media elites towards the issues of the people, involved as they are at the moment only in bashing one nation over another to soothe their nationalist sentiments.
In any case, to be able to manage the after effects of such mass scale natural disaster for any government is difficult. Not only in Kathmandu, but even more so in the outskirt regions with an extremely difficult topography, which has been even more severely affected, and where rescue and relief work has not yet reached properly. There are chances that there are people still stuck in the rubble, not to mention the efforts at recovering all the dead bodies. As reported, the Nepali team is also less equipped technically to carry out rescue missions in those areas. Therefore, at one level, it is also necessary to take the help of foreign rescue teams who have advanced technology to carry out rescue missions on a mass scale in difficult areas. But strangely, when regions outside Kathmandu needed these efforts the most, the Government of Nepal decided to send back the foreign rescue teams, perhaps afraid that such intervention might expose other truths and failures of governance in these places.
As of now, the final assessment of the tragedy is yet to be revealed, with new updates coming in. So far the UN reports (as of May 2) state that more than 90 percent damage was in two districts - Gorkha and Sindhupalchok; and more than 80 percent houses were flattened in three districts – Dolakha, Rasuwa and Nuwakot. The UN report suggests that there is a continuing fear of further devastation, as people of these regions continue to stay out in the open, and urgently require shelter, tools for repairing damaged homes, food and medicines.
In such circumstances, it is difficult to comprehend how the Nepalese government can and will manage the delivery of this huge task, added to which is a widespread criticism of various forms of mismanagement on facilitating the supply of all the relief material to the people.
This raises serious doubts if this hastiness, caused due to the media heckling, especially social media, has led to a strategic dilemma in the geo-political space, or maybe even significantly influenced the Nepali nationalist political perception in new ways.
One can only hope, in the world of the political elite’s construct of nationalism that is prevalent in Nepal, the interests of the people who are suffering shall not be sacrificed. In this tragic and turbulent time in Nepal, there are those who will suffer not only from the recent earthquakes, but also from the chance that the indifference in the Nepalese political/media elite’s perception that ‘Nepal is Kathmandu, and Kathmandu is Nepal’ will get further entrenched. In the end, it is the issues of the common people who are suffering on an unimaginable scale that is more important at the moment. And while they will hardly get to see what is going on in the Twitter world, they are the ones who will have to suffer the consequences of such polemics.
Plain jingoism from both side (India and Nepal), especially from some section of mainstream/or social media, does not help those who are suffering but only undermines the core issues of relief/rebuilding in Nepal.
(Sohan Prasad Sha is a Nepali student pursuing his PhD in Jawaharlal Nehru University. He can be reached at email@example.com)